Learning is big business for Verizon Wireless. Trainers at the Basking Ridge, N.J.-based communications company are expected to tie instruction directly to company objectives. This approach ensures executive buy-in, provides concrete benchmarks by which to measure success, and helps the company better serve its growing customer base, says Lou Tedrick, staff vice president, workforce development.
"Training initiatives are not done unless there is a business reason to do it," she says. "When we get contacted to do something, we ask, 'Which of our key performance indicators it's designed to move?,' 'What results do we expect?,' and 'How will it affect our customers?' Then we make the decision of how to support it from a training perspective."
Giving sales and customer service reps the product information they need, and keeping customers happier, is a clear business need, so last year the training organization began providing certification on the Verizon Wireless line of data products, devices, and services, such as its text messaging, wireless Internet, video, music, and GPS navigation services.
The certification program is based on a four-step process, says Tedrick. During the first stage, known as "learn it," the employee receives initial instruction both online as well as in the classroom; the second stage, "show it," includes an activity-based demonstration to managers of knowledge attainment followed by feedback; the third, "prove it," is where workers take the test that determines whether or not they've earned the certification, and also includes an examination of post-training performance indicators, such as individual sales achievement and customer service quality ratings; the fourth step, "earn it," is devoted to recognizing those who gain certification.
"If they hit everything they were asked to do, took the training, passed their test, completed their 'show it' successfully, and at the end of that quarter, when we looked at their results, hit the targets they were expected to hit, then they get recognized as having completed data certification," Tedrick explains.
Quarterly, the company's four operating areas each identify key data products to feature for certification. "They're typically the ones they believe will move their numbers the best," says Tedrick. In any given quarter, one area may choose to certify employees on Verizon Wireless's suite of PDAs, while another might choose to focus on e-mail and text messaging services. When there is a national launch of a new product, such as this summer's release of Chocolate, a music-centric phone, all areas feature certification.
Since the start of the program at the beginning of last year, 80 percent of the company's sales and customer service reps have earned data certification for at least one quarter. And, it hasn't been for nothing—Verizon Wireless exceeded its data revenue target for the year.
The company's data certification training to sales and customer service reps requires a hearty learning management system (LMS) and effective information management. Last year, enhancements to the software further customized it to meet the company's needs.
"As a training organization, you have to have the infrastructure to execute," says Tedrick of what it takes to pull off certification at a large company. "So, you have to have a good LMS." You also need access to employee and learning results data. "We brought together data from our LMS with employee data, as well as sales and service performance data," she points out. "That was essentially three different systems we had to pull the data from and massage it to quickly get the results."
The benefits of a powerful LMS also was put to good use in another training initiative last year. "We've used LMS as a competitive advantage with third-party business partners," says Tedrick of the tailored training on Verizon Wireless products that the company is able to deliver to the employees of other companies, such as national retailers, who sell the Verizon Wireless products and services. "They're outside the Verizon Wireless employee population, but from our customer's perspective, they're just another group that sells our products and services," Tedrick observes. To make sure their understanding of the products is as thorough as that of its in-house employees, Verizon Wireless provided customized online learning portals for each third-party partner via a hosted CMS.
Sidebar: Tuition Assitance
Helping employees go to school is perceived as a luxury to some companies, but Basking Ridge, N.J.-based communications provider Verizon Wireless now knows it's essential to success. "We've always known tuition assistance was great to attract employees," says staff Vice President, Workforce Development, Lou Tedrick, "but what we didn't know is whether we were retaining them, if they have more promotions and movements than others [who have not had tuition assistance], and whether performance and productivity is better than those who don't use it."
To remedy this information deficit, Verizon Wireless decided to make use of recent enhancements to its learning management system (LMS) to figure out exactly what tuition assistance has meant to the company. "We were able to look at comparisons of our participants turnover with our non-participants, and [it turns out] they turnover at a much lower rate than non-participating employees," she says. Moreover, the company discovered that these graduates change career position more frequently, both laterally, to other roles at the same level, and vertically, to jobs with more responsibility. As if that wasn't enough to prove the program's worthiness, the data also revealed participants of tuition assistance to be better performers than non-participants.
"Some people can look at tuition assistance as an expense, but we see there's just tremendous value in it, not only from it being the right thing to do," says Tedrick, "but if we can retain, promote, and grow those people, and they perform better, it's a huge win for any business."
Sidebar: Success Secrets
The efficacy of Basking Ridge, N.J.-based communications provider Verizon Wireless' learning program is no accident, says staff Vice President, Workforce Development, Lou Tedrick, who cites three key ingredients to its success:
Senior Leadership Support: "With every major business initiative that we have, training is one of the key go-to-market requirements, where we don't move unless we know we have the workforce adequately trained and ready to go," Tedrick explains. "It's a mandate for us to build a capable workforce to support our customers."
Training as Business Leader: "Our learning community show up to the rest of our business as business leaders first," she points out. "We understand what's going on in the business, and that what we bring to the table is the learning and development to support their initiatives." To ensure that ethos stays strong, Tedrick and her team are delivering business acumen training to the company's curriculum development staff.
On-the-Job Application: "We have a very passionate, committed group of learning professionals, who know their craft, but [also] know how to apply it to our business. We know how to take the best of the learning world and apply it to the Verizon Wireless business," she says.